Taxi driver Zamarrud Parveen is one of the growing tribe of women who are taking a different route to empowerment. By Anindita Ghosh
The next time you book an Uber in Delhi, don’t be surprised if you find 22-year-old Zamarrud Parveen in the driver’s seat. This BA student from Jamia Milia Islamia has been at the wheel since she was 18, when she enrolled for a driving course with an NGO called the Azad Foundation. “They were giving free driving lessons to women, so, after school, I enrolled for their six-month course. I wanted to start earning as soon as possible, support my parents and complete my education as well,” says Zamarrud. “Incidentally, my mum enrolled in the course with me because she always wanted to drive but never had the chance to!”
Originally from Kasbah Seohara in UP’s Bijnor district, Zamarrud came to Delhi with her mum and siblings when she was in Std 8 to join their father, a construction worker. After completing the course, Zamarrud took up her first job as a driver for a professor. “I had to drive an XUV. I found it a bit boring because I had to ply the same route every day.” So she got her commercial license and started working with Sakha, an organisation that provides women drivers for women customers.“Much of my work included picking up women from parties late at night. The girls preferred us as it was their safest option, and it was good for me as well. My parents trusted me completely. And as for what the neighbours say, I don’t really care!”
While working for Sakha, Zamarrud had a brush with the celeb world when she ferried actor Aamir Khan from the airport. “I had no idea that I was picking him up and it was an even bigger shock for me when he sat in
the front!” says Zamarrud. “My front seat was a mess and I hurriedly threw everything in the boot so that he could sit. The other passenger was director Rajkumar Hirani. The ride, however, was pretty uneventful other than the fact that Aamir kept asking me to slow down the minute I touched 60 km/hr!”
Zamarrud soon found out about Uber from other women drivers. “I found out that I could earn double while working fewer hours. Soon I started driving a car with an Uber partner since I did not have my own car.” It was the first time that she drove male passengers—well, non-celebrity ones at any rate. “Most of the passengers are men and most are respectful. There was an old gentleman who nearly had a heart attack when he saw me at the wheel. However, his panic was soon allayed when he discovered that I was a good driver.” Zamarrud’s women passengers are most excited when they meet her. “Most of them chat with me all the way, take selfies and sit next to me on the front seat.”
Working with Uber allows Zamarrud to go offline when she wants, whether it’s at 8 pm when she goes home or when she wants to take a break to study for her exams. Right now she earns about AED 810 to AED 1,000 a month, however, these earnings will multiply manifold if she buys her own car. “Drivers who have their earn AED 100,000 or more a month. While it’s tempting to buy one, I don’t want to take on a liability right now. As of today, AED 810 is good enough to fund my studies and pitch in with the family finances,” says Zamarrud.With an unshakeable belief in herself and the complete support of her family, Zamarrud is sure that she will fulfil all her dreams, whether it is to become a professor, buy her own car or ensure that her sisters get the education she never did.